For nonprofit startups, technology may be one of the farthest concerns. After all, what do you really need in the beginning?
A computer, certainly. Maybe a website once the business plan and operations are well underway. How about an email service registered to your nonprofit's domain. Oh, and will a simple spreadsheet do for managing our first supporters and volunteers? And what if our only computer crashes--should we have a backup system; maybe an external drive?
It seems like one concern leads to another in the beginning. And with little to no budget for IT resources, it is important for a nonprofit just starting out to really look to the future for answers when it comes to the most important strategy for adopting sustainable technology assets and invest wisely.
Bo Crader shares 4 tips to help nonprofit startups develop a technology strategy, in an article on npEngage:
Long term planning
An all-in-one, low cost solution, with strong IT support, and data security is the ideal as an organization grows. Many cloud services provide just that type of solution, and at a lower cost than employing IT staff. Perhaps in the beginning, a full-blown cloud solution might not be necessary, limiting it to only a free cloud storage service.
However, as your nonprofit begins to grow and evolve over the next 5 years, it is important to scale your technology resources to grow with it or reevaluate the service and tools you are using.
For instance, server virtualization might seem like a waste of money if you only have 1-2 computers, but when your foundation grows and you bring in 10 more computers to accommodate the workload and staff, hardware sustainability and longevity become an issue. Did you know that most computers need to be replaced after 3 years? Cloud hosting and desktop virtualization can significantly take the strain off of hardware maintenance and costs.
Apply for IT donations
Crader discusses searching for IT support donations through staff member connections to receive a donated service, such as fixing a computer. Individuals are not the only ones who are willing to donate IT resources to nonprofits.
Corporations and for-profits are willing to partner, collaborate, and even donate software or services to assist nonprofits. Most recently, Microsoft Citizenship announced that they are making Office 365 available by donation to eligible nonprofits in 41 countries. Microsoft has a list of other software available by donation as well. Salesforce, a foundation that provides a robust constituent relationship management (CRM) system also offers 10 free licenses to qualifying nonprofits. There are many donation opportunities in the technology community to be found.
Identify priority milestones
Crader says it perfectly, "Donors and volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit, and the mission of the startup is often to secure the commitments of time, talent, and treasure from these constituents needed to get out of launch and into ongoing operations."
A spreadsheet may suffice in the very beginning for keeping track of your first 20 donors and 10 volunteers, but when you list grows to 50, 100, 1,000, and beyond in terms of supporters, your nonprofit needs to have a budget ready and a technology solution already researched and ready to launch.
Make security and availability a priority from the start. There is nothing more important than protecting donor information with an encrypted server and secure connection, in addition to backing up the information.
If your organization's server went down today, would your nonprofit still be able to operate without a hitch, or would all processes come to a halt for a long period of time? No matter what stage you are in as a nonprofit startup, security and reliability should be a quality available with every technology resource.